For the past decade, the use of comic books to create film and video games has become a growing trend: Spider-man, Batman, and even Superman have been reincarnated into modern works of art. Lesser known cult-classics, too, have graced cinemas and interactive platforms across the world. The Darkness, one of such titles, has been released to mainstream audiences as a next-generation game on the Xbox 360. Just like its patriarchal comic-form, the game combines unique action with an immersive, gritty atmosphere to tell an emotional, supernatural tale of the modern mob.
Enter Jackie Estacado, an â€śearnerâ€ť for the Franchetti family and bonafide mobster. Paulie Franchetti, Jackieâ€™s adoptive guardian, runs the family with an iron fist and uses his contemporary business methods to rule the New York under-city: drug running, weapon smuggling, and trades with dirty cops are all common practices to Paulie. Thus, the Don sits upon a throne plagued by bad reputation, seen as such by both the traditional mob and Jackie alike. As the story begins, Jackie awakens to a high-speed chase, where he and two of his partners in crime are pursued by an entire police force. Next, picture a devastating car wreck: Jackieâ€™s pals are both dead with the fat, fuming Paulie suspecting him of betrayal as a result. As youâ€™d expect with any mob tale, a hit is called on Estacado, with those that he loves also fearing for their lives. But in Jackieâ€™s case, the story isnâ€™t as simple as it seems. Itâ€™s his twenty-first birthday, and as an unexpected gift from the underworld, his body is invaded by a demonic entity known as â€śThe Darkness.â€ť The parasite uses Jackie as a host to build its strength; in return, it allows Jackie to manipulate its abilities to take down the corrupt Franchetti family. As Jackie travels the slums of the city in search of Paulie, he also learns of the secrets behind The Darkness and its bewildering history that spans much of the Estacado ancestry.
When playing as Jackie, one can destroy the opposition with the use of either standard weaponry or dark powers. Munitions range from shotguns to assault rifles, with the addition of several different types of handguns. With an arsenal of this variety, Jackie can also make use of special abilities, such as handgun dual-wielding and executions or melee attacks. When near an enemy, a simple press of the right trigger will execute a devastating burst of firepower into the victimâ€™s heart, legs, or mouth (yes, the discharge fires through the enemyâ€™s head). Standard gunfights, at first, may take time to adapt to, as the degree to which one configures the sensitivity can improve or falter oneâ€™s accuracy. However, the controls quickly become second nature as the story accelerates.
As the game progresses, Jackie can utilize new demonic powers: the tentacles, demon arm, darkness guns, and black hole. When used in conjunction with standard weaponry, Jackie can unleash deadly combos that sometimes make combat too simple. The difficulty can change quickly, however, as dozens of henchman will fire upon you at once, making use of their surprisingly good AI to try to out-perform Estacado. To use these abilities, The Darkness must first accumulate energy by staying in dark shadows: light areas, obviously, drain its energy quickly. While shooting or gashing out every light in clear site may seem repetitive, it actually adds an unexpected layer of depth to the gameplay: one must not only rely on staying in cover and maneuvering throughout the environment, but also using stealth tactics to surprise the opponent. The Darknessâ€™ tentacles can help to strengthen the stealth fundamental. With enough energy, the player can slither the tentacle within reach, avoiding lit areas to uncover enemy positions and even launch surprise attacks. Though the tentacle should be used often, its controls can sometimes be bothersome. When sneaking to and fro, the tentacle can occasionally get stuck between corpses, and can also disorient the player when gliding on ceilings and building walls. With a little practice, one can get a grasp on the ability, but with a little more polish, Starbreeze could have avoided this tiny flaw. As if its four abilities werenâ€™t enough, The Darkness can also summon four different types of darklings that can either attack Jackieâ€™s opposition or help him complete his objectives with less effort. For instance, the Lightkiller can not only shock a lone foe, but also defuse any light bulbs in the vicinity. These creatures spawn from hellish holes that appear around the city: one light-sensitive creature can be beckoned from each. The darklings, unfortunately, are often only a commodity to assist Jackie- itâ€™s too bad they arenâ€™t required for puzzles or other gameplay elements throughout the game.
Similar to other titles such as the original Deus Ex and The Chronicles of Riddick, The Darkness takes place in a small, yet incredibly deep environment that has the ability to immerse the player incredibly well. Though there are only several different locations, Starbreeze riddles each with an unparalleled amount of detail. The subway station, an area of little interest in other games, can keep players captivated for a long time in The Darkness: various NPCâ€™s can assign sub-quests and offer unique entertainment: an old, crazy man may waddle around the terminal denouncing passages from the Bible, or street performers can begin breakdancing upon donation. Even the inclusion of the full movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as other shows and vintage reels that play throughout several scenes help create a frightening and believable atmosphere. The portrayal of the city also adds to the gameâ€™s gritty ambience- muggers and crazy hobos can elicit emotions of sadness and hatred. Because of such details, more than any title in recent memory, The Darkness is able to evoke feelings within the player, not only towards the main character, but also to his friends and foes. The fantastic storytelling, as well as the incredibly mature and gory style, helps establish Jackieâ€™s character, making him perhaps the most badass protagonist of the next-generation.
In development only for next-generation consoles, Starbreeze was sure to take advantage of the Xbox 360â€™s technological prowess. Incredibly detailed textures exist throughout the entire game in addition to advanced lighting effects and realistic character models. The textures, such as those evident in the subway station, use a startling amount of anisotropic filtering to enhance depth perception and sharpness of various surfaces. All of the characters throughout the game show a great deal of polish, ranging from their believable animations to their tattered apparel. Sometimes, as with many games, the character models donâ€™t look as pretty when viewed from small distances: during a few cutscenes, facial shadowing and textures seem less lifelike due to their close proximity. In the Xbox 360 version, a motion blur exists during Jackieâ€™s movements- an addition absent in the PS3 version. The motion blur, as well as several other effect filters, contribute to the environment with cinema-like outcomes. The Darkness excels greatly in its graphical engine, despite the occasional framerate setback during flashy sequences; likewise, the titleâ€™s soundtrack and audio work rest among the greatest in the genre. Due to its excessive violence and dark themes, one would expect songs in The Darkness to revolve around similar themes. However, in addition to its heavy rock and booming electronic tracks, several lighter scores exist and help to supplement the storyâ€™s emotional moments. The characters that make up the story come to life with phenomenal voice acting- some of the best witnessed in any first person shooter- and fit each persona perfectly.
A vast majority of the resources needed to develop The Darkness went towards the game’s single player mode; as a result, the multiplayer lacks a strong foundation that is necessary to keep players interested after their first few matches. Players can control a human or Darkness form- the “on-the-fly” switching function allows one to switch between classes instantly. Quick rounds and swift firefights result, and one’s ability to predict the opposition’s next move can dramatically alter the outcome of the round. Deathmatch, capture the flag, and survival variations can support up to 8 players, yet frequently conjure an impacting amount of lag, further deterring from the multiplayer experience. This, combined with the lackluster, linear map design, make the addition of an online mode seem unsuited for such a well-developed title- it’s inclusion in the title leads one to believe that single player was the sole intention for the game.
Some may criticize the longevity of The Darkness due to its semi-short story and obsolete multiplayer mode; however, though single player will likely last the average gamer 10-12 hours, the story seems much longer. The events throughout the story, in addition to the evolution of each character, will enthrall the player more than most recent titles of greater length- this is quite a feat. Starbreeze has managed to transform a relatively unknown comic world into an engrossing, character-driven fantasy packed to the brim with action, gore, and detail. Though several minor flaws exist throughout the game, a small amount of patience will likely render them trivial. With production values to marvel and extra content to indulge, the tale of Jackie Estacado is not one to miss.
Final Score: 9 out of 10 - Very Good (How do we rate games?)